I have a confession to make: I don’t understand third wave feminism. Or why Raunch culture is considered a feminist movement. Or how exactly pole dancing for exercise is liberating women.
The trusty source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, tells me that third wave feminism came about in the 90’s as a result of the failures of second wave feminism.
Let’s break it down shall we?
Third wave feminists ‘recognize that woman are of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds.’
Yup, following you so far.
Third wave feminists ‘believe that further changes in stereotypes and media portrayals of women need to occur and believe in a celebration of sexuality and broader definitions of ‘oppression’ and ’empowerment’.’
Mmmmm, it’s getting sketchy but I’ll play along.
Third wave feminism ‘allows women to define for themselves what ‘feminism’ is and thereby challenge second wave opposition to pornography and the sex industry.’
This is the part that makes me scrunch up my upper lip and go ‘huh?’
We’ve come so far, why are we pressing the self destruct button now?
The conflict between the women’s movement and the sexual revolution has in turn produced a nasty little offspring called raunch culture. You may have heard of it, it’s the culture we’re living in now. You know the one, where women are being objectified, objectify one another and are encouraged to objectify themselves. All in the name of liberation.
Advertisements, TV, music, films and magazines are celebrating a certain image of female perfection and women are being encouraged to aspire to it. The new ‘norm’ is thin, big boobs, tight bum, revealing clothing and few brains. Basically an image that has been defined and portrayed by the sex industry. Surely some alarm bells should be ringing?
In the pretend equality of a post-feminist world, women and women’s bodies are now being treated as objects in a way that’s presumed to be about sex rather than about inequality. Only 30 years ago, my mother’s generation were burning their bras and protesting against playboy, yet today, we’re all getting breast implants and wearing playboy bunnies as symbols of our liberation. Today women are doing pole dancing for exercise, shaking their backsides in every music video, wearing clothing with the words ‘slut’ and ‘easy’ across their breasts and butts and posing provocatively to promote everything from diet coke to cars . The Kardashians have their own hit reality show, push up bras are worn by 14 year olds and female olympians become famous for posing in nude calenders and lads-mags rather than for the sports they play. Kids are growing up playing with bratz dolls whilst watching Girls of the Playboy Mansion for inspiration. Hooters bars have become the norm. Does no one else see something very wrong with this? We’re so accepting of everything around us, that we don’t stop and think ‘hey maybe this is actually sexist and degrading’. Raunch culture is pushing girls into thinking that flaunting their sexuality is a form of empowerment. Newsflash: It’s not.
I’ve tried to get with the program, I honestly have. But the argument just doesn’t add up in my mind. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish actually good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? How is imitating a porn star or stripper, a women whose job it is to imitate arousal in the first place going to render us liberated?
If you want to do exercise, go do a spin class. Not spin round a pole class. Believe me, you’re not doing women any favors. And if you think pole dancing makes you feel sexy, and you’re doing it for you, then ask yourself the question, why does it make you feel sexy? Who are you trying to impress? Who are you imitating? Aren’t you just serving up misogyny in hot pants? What implications do your actions have on the stereotypes of women? Is pole dancing a skill you really want to pass on to you daughter?
In the famous words of Ryan Gosling:
“The war between the sexes is over. Men won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise”.
At the end of the day ‘raunchy’ and ‘liberated’ are not synonyms. I checked.
The aim of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s was for women to be released from the conventional morality around sex. The fact that women can now be sexually active and experienced without being condemned is a direct result of second wave feminism. And is something that should be celebrated. But the rise of a hypersexualized culture is not proof that we have reached full equality; rather it is a reflection of the deeper power imbalances in our society. When we talked about empowerment in the past, young women in thongs gyrating around poles would not spring to mind; rather attempts by women to gain real political and economic equality would. Yet today, women still do not have the political power, the economic equality or the freedom from violence they have sought for generations. Today, Australia has it’s very first female Prime Minister. It only took us 110 years to get there. But rather than judging her on her ability to govern or her policies, we like commenting about her hair. And nose. Ow and her jackets don’t flatter her body shape.
Now don’t get me wrong, ‘pro-raunch’ is not the only kind of third wave feminism and certainly not all aspects of third wave feminism are detrimental. Given we still don’t have equality, we need female voices standing up for our rights. But it’s not a case of third time lucky. Raunch culture has become our establishment. Who can have the shorter skirt and be a bigger slut (not because they want to, but because society expects them to), the competition.
And because of it, we’re going backwards. Naturally, no one has the right to tell a women what she can and can’t do with her own body. But we do need to ask, where are certain behaviors coming from and what do they represent? Rather than admiring women for their intellects and achievements and allowing liberation through equality, we’ve decided that in order for women to be liberated they must be imitating stripers and porn stars. It’s not good enough for a woman to be good at what she does, she has to look sexy doing it too. Getting paid by the hour, is evidently ‘girl power’. The girls from the playboy mansion have become role models and the poster girls of ‘new’ feminism. Our interest is with the appearance of sexiness, not with sexual pleasure. Few people will be able to tell you who Malalai Joya or Mona Eltahawy are. But we all know who Paris Hilton is. And we’ve all seen her sex tape.
We need advocates and role models that can prove to young women that you can be smart, strong and determined whilst still being sophisticated and desired. The message that society is sending is wrong. You don’t have to be thin, have big breasts, a firm butt, a cute little nose, and dress a certain way to be happy. Your image will not validate you. Your thoughts, opinions and determination will. Self-esteem will grant you respect and bring you happiness. Contrary to the media’s portrayal, there’s not such thing as a virgin/whore dichotomy. Don’t accept being labeled as a prude. There’s a middle ground. And women need to find where they fit irrespective of societies expectations.
‘Women’s liberation’ and ’empowerment’ were terms used by feminists to cast off limitations and demand equality. These words have been perverted. Today’s society is not a reflection of how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.
To finish this rant (I didn’t think it would ever end either) I’d like to leave you with a quote by Ariel Levy that has stuck with me:
“If you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven’t made any progress.”